September 23, 2004

We Don't Live Here Anymore

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Director John Curran”s film, We Don”t Live Here Anymore, based on two short stories by Andre Dubus, is a drawn out exploration of two couples caught in a love … square. Jack Linden (Mark Ruffalo) and Edith Evans (Naomi Watts) cross uncomfortable boundaries when they have an affair, straining both their marriages and their friendships with each other”s spouses. This taboo affair eventually draws their spouses, Terry Linden (Laura Dern) and Hank Evans (Peter Krause), together.

The now complicated situation becomes even stranger when no one seems to be very surprised or upset by the concurrent affairs except for Terry. While the movie seemed like it would keep my attention the whole time with it”s intrinsically dramatic premise, I found myself checking my watch all too frequently towards the end. Getting lost on the way to the movie theater was genuinely more enjoyable than sitting through this movie.

The character development, or lack there of, makes the movie unfulfilling. There are points during the movie where Jack narrates the situation, attempting to give insight into the complicated affair at the heart of the film. However, Jack is the only character who narrates at all and when he does, it is so infrequent that his narration always catches the audience off guard. We do get to know him best out of all the other characters, which isn”t saying much. Besides his narration, the audience is not given an alternate point of view from which to consider the plot of the film. What results is a pervasive confusion, leaving the audience very distant from the characters. Curran tries to employ different solutions to reconcile the problem of adapting Dubus”s two short stories into a successful film, two of which are the use of narration and the use of cinematography.

Although the movie inched along slowly, the camera-work and sets were extremely well done. The film cuts from scene to scene seamlessly with the visual presentation of genuine settings such as houses and offices. Through these cuts, audiences are informed of what is going on with all four characters almost simultaneously, which is very cool. The frequent panoramas of the New England town where the two academic families live are a pleasure to see, as are the simple shots concerning fathers with their children, romantic seduction, and self-ridicule.

Although the movie does explore morality and pathos, it does not judge any of the characters having adulterous affairs, just as the characters themselves generally refrain from seriously judging each other. The judgment is left to the audience. We end up feeling for all of the characters resulting in a difficult decision as to who is wrong. The movie does get to the heart of unhappy and unexciting marriages, but no matter how hard he tries, Curran cannot transfer the joy of reading such an in-depth character study onto the big screen. The incomplete character developments stunt the movie, which otherwise had the potential to be intriguing and fun to watch. The failed attempt at exposing four very intricate lives makes for a slow and overall unsatisfying film.

2 1/2 Stars

Archived article by Becky Wolozin
Red Letter DAZE Contributor